Standards-Based Grading and the NGSS — First Cut

Last year I took toddler steps into the world of Standards-Based Grading (SBG) by incorporating this methodology into two of my physics classes.  This year I intend to use SBG with all five of my classes, a mix of regular level and honors.  Overall, I was happy with last year’s results, and I learned a lot about how to make this year’s results even better. 

One big change for this year is that I will do my best to align my classes with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which my district intends to fully support in 2014-15, including newly designed science classes from middle school upward.  As a member of the district’s physics curriculum committee, I’m trying to get a jumpstart on alignment.

I found that the success of using SBG depends significantly on the granularity of the standards that are used at the unit level.  Too many standards makes the process unwieldy, and too few makes assessment subjective.  Also, I like to differentiate between core concepts and supporting standards, such as science practices or literacy standards.  I discovered that I like a unit of instruction to have about six core standards, plus about this many supporting standards, which may be repeated throughout the course.  I used the following weighted categories for determining students’ grades: Core Concepts, Scientific Practices, Literacy Standards.

As I try to align my SBG system with the NGSS, I find that the standards in the NGSS are much too granular for unit assessment.  Here’s an analogy: Sugar comes in many levels of granularity.  Sometimes sugar cubes do the job, other times granulated sugar, other times confectioner’s sugar, and even other times coarse decorating sugar.  In my opinion, the NGSS are like sugar cubes: too big for most purposes.  I think unit standards need to be closer to the coarse decorating level.

So, I’m taking a stab at writing unit standards that are aligned with the NGSS, and I’m seeking some feedback on what I’m doing.  The students will be assessed against these standards both formatively and summatively.  My grading scheme includes four levels, mimicking the levels that Illinois has used for the Prairie State Achievement Exam.  The following image shows standards that I would associate with a unit that might be called Forces in high school physics:


As you can see, I took one of the NGSS standards (yes, redundant) — HS-PS2-1 — and linked seven core concepts to it.  Students will not receive a “grade” on the NGSS standard itself, but rather on the seven sub-standards: HS-PS2-1a through HS-PS2-1g.  I also included the Common Core Mathematics standards and ELA/Literacy standards that the NGSS document claims are linked to the NGSS standard.  (The abbreviations are for use with our district’s online grading tool). 

Here are my thoughts and questions:

I feel that I can adequately assess these seven core standards.  The first one (PS2-1a) is actually a Science and Engineering Practice from the NGSS, but I included it in the core standards list to limit the number of weighted grading categories.  I may use three graded categories: Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core Mathematics, and Common Core ELA/Literacy.  Or, I may use four by adding a separate category for Science and Engineering Practices.  However, I think four would be unwieldy.  Perhaps all Common Core standards should be in one category.  And, yes, I feel that the Common Core standards should be graded in a physics class.

This list included more mathematics standards than are manageable, in my opinion.  I will have to pare down this list.

I wonder if I am including more core content than the NGSS designers intended.  For example, is Newton’s First Law implicit in the standard?  Should it be assessed at the high school level?

Am I trying to fit a square peg (the NGSS sugar cube) into a round hole (the traditional physics curriculum)?  In other words, am I trying to dress up the NGSS in an old dress?  Or simply, am I putting window dressing on … Oh, you get the picture.  Should I be doing something more transformational to my existing learning standards?  I certainly intend to do some transformational things to classroom activities.

What do you think?  I am not really looking for wordsmithing, although it’s okay if you want to do so.  I would love your ideas about the approach and the granularity of my system.  Thank you for your feedback and suggestions!


One thought on “Standards-Based Grading and the NGSS — First Cut

  1. Pingback: Second Cut – Standards-Based Grading and the Next Generation Science Standards | ericphysjones

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